Quartering: Is It Costing You or Is It Your Secret Sauce?

Trevor Brazile, Lari Dee Guy and Sawyer Gilbert weigh-in on whether a quartering breakaway horse can save you precious tenths at the end of a run or cost you a catch.

Bullstock Media Courtesy WCRA

Quartering—defined as a breakaway horse pivoting to the left away from the calf—is a style that isn’t every breakaway ropers’ cup of tea. 

But, top young talent Sawyer Gilbert has proven aboard her 15-year-old Paint Roger that quartering can slice off time the end of a run if executed properly. On Roger, she beat the best in the world at the 2018 RFD-TV’s The American when she won the long round, was the 2019 Rope for the Crown Champion in Las Vegas, won third at the Women’s Rodeo World Championships in 2020 and won Chris Neal’s 19&Under Rising Stars in Fort Worth in December 2020.

“That’s the only horse I have that I let quarter,” Gilbert, 18, who ropes at the college rodeos for Weatherford College, said. “I got him when he was really young and I was in fifth grade. Before I owned him, he got stuck in an autogate out in a pasture, and they put ropes around his feet to get him out. Ever since then, he hated ropes around his feet. So when I started him, he’d drop so low to get away from the rope. In the practice pen, roping with a breakaway hondo, it would break from the calf and come back and hit him in the feet, so that’s when he started quartering. But when I was a fifth grader, I didn’t care—I was happy I’d caught. 

“Now he’s not scared of the rope, but that’s what he’s done so many times that he likes it,” Gilbert said. “I see a lot of girls whose horses quarter either direction. But that particular horse doesn’t do it until after he gets his butt in the ground, and then he quarters. He’s not really shorting me and not taking my throw away. It happens after the rope is on the calf. We’ve timed it, and he’s one- to two-tenths faster when he quarters. It definitely helps on slow calves. He moves sideways and takes the rope out faster. He’s harder to rope on down at the other end on longer scores, because the longer he runs the faster he will start quartering. I kind of think every horse has a weakness and a strength, and that’s his strength. I hear lots of people give their opinions about quartering, but I’ve made my decision about it, and I don’t care.” 

Gilbert’s 15-year-old Paint Horse Roger shuts the clock off one- to two-tenths of a second faster when he quarters at the end of a run. 

For WPRA World Champion and Cowgirl Hall of Fame Inductee Lari Dee Guy, whether or not you can rope on a horse that quarters all depends on where you rope. 

“From the box, we start 11 to 12 feet from the calf,” Guy, of Abilene, Texas, explained. “So we’ve got to move in that distance to get behind the calf, to crossover the tail head essentially, to throw. The ropers who ride horses who quarter can do it because they rope on the crossover. They’re running to the calf, and their horse crosses, and they throw. The ones that don’t quarter are the ones who cross over at the chute, then rope.” 

It’s all about angles, Guy said. A horse that quarters after running straight to the calf through a throw can be deadly fast. 

“But they can’t quarter in your throw running to the calf because it changes all the angles of the throw,” Guy said. “It’s almost like a head horse ducking in your delivery. But if they’re in a straight line and you throw when the horse is crossing over the calf, it’s fine.”

While watching the National Finals of Breakaway Roping in person, even 26-time PRCA World Champion Trevor Brazile weighed in on the subject of quartering, bringing a nuanced horse-industry-related view to the topic. 

“In the breakaway, as long as you can see a calf, you can rope them,” Brazile said. “Breakaway ropers try to rope so correct, and it makes sense in the tie-down why you need your horse square when you pull your slack because there’s a next step in the run. There’s no next step in the breakaway. The breakaway ropers are taking something we’ve always done because these horses would be sold in the tie-down because that’s where the money for the horses was. But the breakaway market is so strong that they need to start looking at breakaway as the end game.” BRJ